Court delivers win for Union Hill citizens over Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Air permit for compressor station thrown out by federal court

Pastor Paul Wilson of Union Hill Baptist Church stands in front of a group protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (© Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

Today the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals handed down a victory in SELC’s case against the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The court’s ruling calls into question whether pipeline developers, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, can now build a compressor station in Union Hill, Virginia, a historic African-American community settled by Freedmen and Freedwomen in the years after the Civil War. 

“We are very happy with the court’s decision,” said Friends of Buckingham president and Union Hill resident Chad Oba. “Five years ago, Dominion told us that there was going to be a compressor station in Union Hill and there was nothing we could do about it. That’s not fair, and it’s not American. Today we showed that our community, our community’s history, and our community’s future matters more than a pipeline.”

SELC represented Friends of Buckingham in the case, which it litigated along with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

At the heart of the case was the environmental injustice of placing a compressor station in this predominately African-American community that has deep ties to the lives of formerly enslaved people, along with the failure of Virginia regulators to even consider an alternative electric compressor that would nearly eliminate all air pollution from the facility. In its decision the court said, “[E]nvironmental justice is not merely a box to be checked, and the Board’s failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the Compressor Station resulted in a flawed analysis.”

“For the first time since Dominion showed up in Union Hill, I feel like we’ve been heard. My ancestors, Freedmen and Freedwomen from Buckingham, remained here to start a new life in the years after the Civil War,” said Friends of Buckingham member and Union Hill resident John Laury. “They made a way from no way. Since coming back to Union Hill, we love being able to spend time outdoors on our small farm. It is a connection to the land my ancestors worked so hard to secure. The court’s decision shows that Dominion can’t ignore our community and pollute our air.”   

The decision marks the eighth time since May 2018 that a federal court or the federal agencies themselves have revoked or suspended Atlantic Coast Pipeline permits. As a result, pipeline builders Dominion Energy and Duke Energy shut down all construction more than a year ago with less than 6 percent of the project in the ground.

The future of this risky and highly controversial pipeline is uncertain. Developers must evaluate alternative routes that avoid two national forests—potentially redrawing significant portions of their proposal—in order to comply with an earlier court decision. And more than five years after the pipeline was first announced, new evidence makes it apparent that the project is excessively costly and unnecessary.

“For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s the same story again and again,” said SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “Dominion tried to force a pipeline compressor station into a community where it didn’t belong, just like it has tried to force the pipeline through a national park, national forests, and steep mountains. But the people of Union Hill never backed down. Today they’ve won an important victory, not just for themselves, but for every community in Virginia facing the unjust burden of industry and pollution.”

Pipeline developers will face another hurdle on February 24, when the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Dominion and Duke’s appeal of Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. Forest Service. SELC won this case against Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the U.S. Forest Service in the federal Fourth Circuit in 2018.

For more information about SELC’s work to stop the destructive and unneeded Atlantic Coast Pipeline visit stoptheacp.org.

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